NFU Scotland (NFUS) claimed today that Advocates for Animals acted irresponsibly and compromised bio-security in an undercover investigation into animal welfare breaches at the headquarters of Scotland’s largest independent egg producer.
But Advocates for Animals responded to the criticisms by stating that NFUS is simply deflecting attention away from the animal welfare issues at hand, as its investigators observed strict bio-security practices at all times.
The animal welfare organisation claims that Glenrath Farms, owned by John Campbell, breached Scottish animal welfare regulations by overstocking its cages and not removing dead birds on a daily basis.
An Animal Health spokesman, formerly the State Veterinary Service, told Poultry World that officials had visited the farm twice over the last two weeks and had found evidence of breaches of welfare regulations. The spokesman confirmed that the matter will now be addressed with Mr Campbell but he could not confirm whether charges would be brought against the company. Mr Campbell has denied the allegations, stating that Glenrath Farms labours stringent welfare standards.
In March and April 2007, the Advocates for Animals investigator made three visits to the same poultry shed, housing 59,000 layers, at Whim Poultry Farm in West Linton, Peeblesshire. There are three units at the site, each holding 44,000, 59,000 and 88,000 birds.
According to Scottish animal welfare regulations, cages must hold a maximum of five birds and dead birds must be removed daily. But the investigator claims he saw a high incidence of cages containing up to eight birds, plus high rates of feather loss, foot deformities and dead or decomposing birds (see pictures).
Ross Minett, director of Advocates for Animals, said: “Intensive farmers may well prefer the public not to be able to see how animals are treated behind the closed doors of factory farms. That is why we fully defend investigations such as this which are in the public interest. I think the public will see through this.”
The organisation submitted video footage, photographs and a report to Animal Health on 20 April. It has called for an investigation into all of Glenrath Farms’ layer units and wants charges to be brought against the company for breaching the regulations.
But James Withers, deputy chief executive, NFUS, strongly criticised Advocates for Animals’ actions. “Animal welfare is a top priority for NFUS. It’s a serious subject so it should be treated seriously. What NFUS will not accept is animal rights groups gaining unauthorised entry into farms, presumably in the dead of night, and accessing poultry sheds. All Advocates for Animals achieves with these kinds of publicity stunts is to alienate themselves from sensible discussion. How does that take forward the issues they claim to fight for?
“The group has blatantly flouted the bio-security and access codes – and claims about using disposable gloves or washing boots don’t escape that fact,” said Mr Withers.
Mr Campbell added: “I am disappointed at Advocates for Animals who gained unauthorised entry to our premises and could have been on other poultry premises within the last 48 hours which could spread disease – especially avian flu.”
An Animal Health spokesman confirmed that the Animal Health investigation is ongoing.